If you want to be a sexual Goldilocks — lasting neither too long nor too short, but just right — the key is control.
Yet some men have problems maintaining that control. An estimated 30 to 35 percent of men believe they should last longer during sex, experts say. A much smaller number — about one man in 40 — has the opposite problem, and has great difficulty reaching the sexual promised land.
The definition of premature ejaculation — also known as the kinder, less-pejorative "rapid ejaculation" — varies, ranging from scant seconds of intercourse to a few minutes. Some men reach orgasm almost immediately, according to sex experts.
More typically, it's two or three minutes, which can be problematic given that "most women need at least 10 to 20 minutes following penetration to reach orgasm themselves," according to Dr. Gerald Weeks, of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
So how to slow things down? Men have tried a variety of ad hoc solutions.
"Since my desk is across from my bed, I tend to look for something work-related or maybe some bills on my desk," said Justin, a 25-year-old engineer. "I let that depress and distract me — and it slows things down."
Others turn to the Web or peek in the back of certain "men's magazines," where ads for anesthetic creams offer the promise of joy. But these products work by making the genitals less sensitive, so what's the point?
If you want sex to feel good and not have to think distracting thoughts, there are medically established exercises that can increase staying power. But first you need to find a partner you can trust — the two of you are about to get pretty intimate.
Experts say the key is to acclimatize — get used to stimulation without ejaculation. For example, your partner begins to work his or her magic, but stops when you start to reach the point of no return. You will eventually build up a tolerance to all those good feelings and last longer during sex.
Different sexual positions may also allow men to control their orgasm, according to experts. Some men find they can have better ejaculatory control when they are on their backs, according to Weeks.
Those who have trouble reaching orgasm — a phenomenon known as "retarded ejaculation" or the harsher-sounding "ejaculatory incompetence," have a different problem.
Antidepressants like Prozac and Zoloft, which can suppress sexual sensitivity, have become the biggest culprit in recent years, according to Dr. Linda De Villers, a sex therapist in El Segundo, Calif. Other causes include low testosterone, old age and sensation-dulling condoms.
For some men, the problem is purely psychological. "They tend to be men who are compulsive givers, very attentive to their partners," De Villiers said. "They get wrapped up in the giver role and not tend to their own needs, although they ultimately become resentful that their partners are getting goodies and they're not."
These men may fear giving up control at the moment of orgasm, a time when people are intensely vulnerable. There are two physical exercises that can help in these situations, De Villiers said.
As a first option, you can try a "bridge maneuver": take foreplay as far as possible, and when you're right on the verge, try to reach your orgasm while having intercourse.
"That's the brute force method," Weeks said. "Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't."
If the bridge maneuver doesn't carry you to less troubled waters, experts suggest a set of exercises similar to those for premature ejaculation, all based on taking it slow.
"It's like performance anxiety," Weeks said. "If you can take the pressure off, nature will take over."